Isn’t Pyongyang always in “lockdown”?

Ah well. At times like these, when it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams, I take comfort in our president’s track record of foreign policy excellence.

[W]hile the North Korean authorities have in the past limited access to the capital, the latest restrictions even apply to permanent residents of Pyongyang, who are by definition the elite of the regime.

“This sort of action suggests there has either been an attempted coup or that the authorities there have uncovered some sort of plot against the leadership,” Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and an authority on North Korean affairs, told The Telegraph.

“If it is a military-backed coup, then the situation in Pyongyang will be very dangerous and I have heard reports that Kim has been moved out of the capital,” he said.

Another possibility, via the same professor, is that the city’s been locked down not to keep people out but to keep them in — specifically, to block the escape routes of any senior officials who might be trying to defect, whether because they’re complicit in the coup attempt or simply terrified of the chaos of the power struggle. Any reason to treat this as credible, given that the “lockdown” report originated on a website run by North Korean exiles opposed to the regime? Well, there’s the little matter of Kim Jong-un’s mysterious and coincidental disappearance from public view this month. Supposedly he’s ill but maybe his condition is, shall we say, a bit graver than that. Or maybe he’s just a puppet whose puppeteer doesn’t want him putting on shows right now for whatever reason. The founder of the website that broke the “lockdown” news told Vice in an interview that, in reality, Kim hasn’t governed the country for more than a year. He’s a figurehead. And figureheads can be replaced.

According to Jang — a former counterintelligence official and poet laureate under Kim Jong-il — members of the government’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), a powerful group of officials that once reported only to Kim Jong-il, have stopped taking orders from his son, Kim Jong-un. The OGD, Jang says, has effectively taken control of the country, and a conflict is simmering between factions that want to maintain absolute control over the economy and others seeking to gain wealth through foreign trade and a slightly more open market…

According to Jang, the coup [last year] coincided with the execution of Jang Sung-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle by marriage. A longtime political rival of the OGD but considered untouchable because of his family ties to Kim Jong-il, Jang Sung-taek was officially charged with “consolidating his own power with factional maneuvering” and selling off state resources at below market value for personal profit. He was summarily purged last December, and a popular but false rumor had him being eaten alive by dogs…

“The real power resides within that one department, the OGD, that was groomed to bureaucratic perfection by Kim Jong-il,” [Professor Remco] Breucker told VICE News. “When he was alive, he was in practical sense heading the department. Kim Jong-un is not. It serves him, but it more serves the legacy of Kim Jong-il. Those don’t always coincide.”

Right, but … why wouldn’t they always coincide? Why would Kim Jong-un rock the OGD’s boat to the point where he’d jeopardize his cushy position as well-fed nominal ruler of a nation of millions, with no real responsibilities? He must realize how expendable he is; he has two brothers, both of whom can fill the job’s requirement — preserving the country’s “necrocracy” by dint of his patrilineage — as well as he can. I can only figure that maybe the illusion of supreme power went to Kim’s head and he defied his eminences grises.

For what it’s worth, neither Yonhap nor Chosun Ilbo, the English-speaking Internet’s go-to sites for breaking news on North Korea, have anything splashy today about a duel for control of the North. Hmmmmmmm.